The Red Squirrels are everywhere. These fellas do not hibernate during the winter, but rather stay active throughout the season. They spend the fall collecting and storing food for future consumption in large. Using tree cavities, underbrush piles, or dens as their own pantries, red squirrels can ensure that the food they’ve gathered for the winter will be kept safely and out of the way of trespassers. Because their food stashes are critical for their survival they tend to be very territorial towards intruders. Confrontation between two red squirrels often entails a lot of tail flicking, chattering, and foot stomping. Even when I walk through the forest and come across a Red Squirrel it often shows its displeasure at my presence with loud chattering, aha sing its ground even when I am very close to it.
The Red Squirrels are rarely far away from the trail in the Whitemud Ravine. Sunflower seeds litter the logs and stumps along the trail, much to the delight of the squirrels, chickadees and nuthatches. Clearly these animals do not consider humans threatening, on the contrary, they associate humans with food. I am not sure if this is good or bad. While feeding wildlife is typically discourage this often refers to large animals that are potentially dangerous like bears and elk in the mountain parks and geese and coyotes in city parks. What could the possible harm be in feeding squirrels and birds sunflower seeds? Edmonton has a bylaw specifically prohibiting feeding wildlife and people have been known to be ticketed in the Whitemud Ravine for feeding the wildlife (presumable for providing sunflower seeds).
It never ceases to amaze me how hardy and resilient the animals in the forest are and how meek and helpless we humans are. Take this unassuming red squirrel as an example. I came across this little fella on a bitterly cold morning sitting in a tree munching on a snack seemingly not being bothered by the cold at all. I on the other hand, I was bundled up in more layers that I care to count, little hotties in boots and, toque and gloves…, yet, I had to keep moving to stay warm. It is remarkable that an animal so vulnerable and helpless to the elements has managed to become the globally dominant organism. The reason for the “success” of humans is obviously the brain. What we lack for in hardiness, teeth, claws and physical prowess we make up for with our brain. Nevertheless, this humble squirrel (and others like it) deserve our respect and admiration.
One of the most common sounds in the forest along the Whitemud Ravine is the distinct chattering noise made by the Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Red Squirrels are solitary and territorial rodents that use their vocalization to announce their presence and defend their territory. In the fall they collect spruce and pine cones and hoard them underground in a central storage depot called a mídden. The midden is the main source of food during the winter and allows the squirrel to remain active throughout the winter. Because of the importance of these food caches they readily defend their territory from other squirrels that dare venture into it. Their address in the forest is permanent as individual squirrels stay in their territory for their entire lives. We came across this Red Squirrel that was perched on a branch along the trail making a cacophony of chattering sounds. As we walked past it it just ignored us and continued its noise making. Clearly this was the head of this territory and no squirrel or human should not even dare to think otherwise.
As we are trying to figure how to use our new camera for wildlife photography one of the main challenges always seems to be to try to get close enough to your subject. Well, that is not a problem with the local American Red Squirrel population. This picture was taken with our Nikon P900 at a focal length of 116 mm (650 mm at 35 mm equivalent) from only a few meters away. The little guy (or gal) was preoccupied gobbling down as many sunflower seed as possible and could not care less about us inching our way closer and closer while our camera was shooting away. In the Edmonton area we are still fortunate to have a thriving population of Red Squirrels, they are just as easily spotted in the local park or forest as in our neighbourhood backyards. They can be bold and brazen and very opportunistic. I have lost count of the number of squirrels I have had to evict from our house over the years,… that’s evicting from inside the house. While they might be cute one day and a brazen pest the next we are fortunate in Edmonton that the Eastern Gray Squirrel has not been introduced here. It is an introduced species in various locations in eastern North America, including in Vancouver and Calgary. In these cities it has become the predominant squirrel, essentially essentially replacing the native squirrels.
May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling). Copyright Mario Pineda.